Magazine Poland

On this Day, in 1989: diplomatic relations between Poland and the Holy See were restored

On July 17, 1989, diplomatic relations between Poland and the Holy See were officially restored – the first time the Vatican had forged such ties with a Warsaw Pact nation.

Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Poland have existed since 1555, when, Luigi Lippomano, the first resident diplomatic representative of the Holy See with the rank of Nuncio, arrived in Warsaw.

But after World War II, the Holy See refused to recognize the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity and maintained diplomatic relations with the Polish government-in-exile in London until 1958.

Discussions on the normalization of relations between Poland and the Holy See began in the 1970s and in October 1978, Archbishop of Kraków Karol Józef Wojtyła was elected Pope and became known as Pope John Paul II. But in Poland, church-state relations remained strained by the new Pope’s fervent support of the Solidarity free trade union.

In June 1979, John Paul II made his first official visit to Poland, followed by a second one in 1983 and a third in 1987. He has since then been credited with being instrumental in bringing down Communism in Poland and in Central and Eastern Europe.

In May 1989, the way was finally paved for establishment of full relations between Pope John Paul II’s native Poland and the Vatican after the Polish Parliament passed a law giving the Roman Catholic Church legal status for the first time since 1944.

That same year, the Sejm also passed two other laws establishing freedom of worship for all creeds and the church’s right to build churches, teach religion and establish and run Catholic schools. And in July, the Holy See and Poland re-established full diplomatic relations – the first time the Vatican has forged such ties with a Warsaw Pact nation.

Following the resumption of full diplomatic relations, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk as the first Nuncio to Poland after half a century the following month. He held this post for an exceptionally long time, until 2010, when he was appointed archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland.

Pope John Paul II visited Poland three more times, in 1997, 1999 and 2002. His successors Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis respectively visited the country in 2006 and 2016.

More than 90% of Poland’s population identifies as Roman Catholic. It is one of the most Catholic countries in the world.

Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.